A trip to my favorite consignment store during this COVID-19 pandemic provided a surprising social interaction last week. Only God knew that I would have a grief-related encounter; he orchestrated the timing, people, and circumstances for the event. My goal was just to get out of the house to shop.
As often happens when I have time and money to shop, nothing fits, the clothing doesn’t look right, or I just can’t find anything. After my frustrations in the dressing room, I walked around the corner and looked at stuff that I didn’t really need.
Suddenly two staff members moved quickly to the front of the store. “Sit down! Catch your breath!” They urged a customer to sit down in a chair. Then I heard heavy panting amid attempts to speak.
Two employees were giving instructions to someone in obvious distress. “Rest a minute. Can I get you some water?” Thinking it was a medical emergency, I came around the clothes racks to offer help if needed.
Not all of the woman’s words were audible; she gasped for air and spoke from the chair. “Respiratory distress . . . in the hospital . . . nothing they could do.”
This was no medical emergency. The woman expressed her emotional pain, pouring out her grief after the recent death of a loved one. Thinking she was newly widowed, I came closer, hoping to speak with her. Two staff members were by her side, so I didn’t approach.
Instead, I took a pen and paper out of my purse and wrote down the GriefShare website. By then, the second staff member had left, and the woman in the chair slowed her breathing. Her emotional pain tumbled out in disjointed words. “The clothes in the bags – I washed them all. They are brand names . . . good quality.” Her son had died suddenly after a short hospitalization.
When only one staff member stood at her side, I approached slowly and put my hand on the grieving woman’s shoulder. After a pause in the conversation, I mentioned that my husband died of a sudden heart attack sixteen years ago. Acknowledging that grief is very difficult, I asked how she was sleeping. I listened as the woman admitted that she could not sleep, eat, or focus on anything. All of that was normal, I assured her. Her brain had to work overtime to process this painful truth of her loved one’s death. I encouraged her to take care of herself in basic ways, like resting, eating, and drinking water.
Expressing concern over how hard she was working to wash, sort, and donate her son’s clothes, I advised her not to rush through those decisions. Instead, she should consider that people can make quilts, teddy bears, and mementos with fabric from her loved one’s clothes. She mentioned that her granddaughter took some shirts to have teddy bears sewn.
Then I gave her the GriefShare link and suggested that she sign up for the daily emails of comfort and encouragement. Also, she could look up grief support groups on the website. By that time, the woman had calmed her breathing. She stood up and walked toward the front door, and I went back to browse the housewares.
Later I heard the store owner ask the cashier, “Where did that lady go?” After being pointed my way, the owner came over. “Thank you so much for helping that woman. How sad. I think things happen for a reason. Otherwise, what a coincidence that you were here at the time that lady came in!”
“I believe that God arranged those circumstances and that He had this planned. He put all of this together knowing the support that woman needed.”
When I paid for my items, the cashier also thanked me. “My devotion this morning in Jesus Always [Jesus Always: Embracing Joy in His Presence by Sarah Young] was exactly about this kind of thing.”
“Don’t you love how God can teach us lessons and reinforce them in many ways?” I asked. At her agreement, I smiled.
Leaving the store, I felt awe toward an amazing God who surprised me with this opportunity. Although I looked forward to a simple shopping outing as a distraction from the pandemic, God had another plan. Only God could orchestrate my life experiences – my father’s death when I was eleven, my widowed mother who raised us, a nursing career, my husband’s sudden death, raising my fatherless children, volunteering as a grief group facilitator – into a chance to comfort a grieving person (2 Corinthians 1:4-5).
Lord God, please comfort that precious woman whose son died. Give your comfort and peace to her whole family as they grieve this sudden death. Please be with those of us in the store that day: teach us to rely you, share your love with others, and trust you to be involved in our everyday activities. In Jesus’ name. Amen.